Thursday, April 19, 2001


HSTA logo

issue misses
strike spotlight

Isle students' low test scores
have both the state and educators
calling for teacher accountability

By B.J. Reyes

One of the issues not getting a lot of attention as negotiators try to settle the strike by public school teachers is accountability -- the notion of holding schools responsible for results.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has said he does not want to settle without including some components of accountability.

Negotiators say those components likely would be in the form of performance-based salary schedules and professional development.

Many teachers say they welcome the prospect of higher expectations along with higher salaries.

Tying raises to performance in the classroom isn't anything new, said Karen Ginoza, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Like most states, Hawaii has a step schedule that boosts pay based on seniority and performance.

"A teacher must show a satisfactory performance in the classroom before being given a salary increase," she said. "Any teacher marked unsatisfactory does not move up (in pay)."

As far as pay raises tied to seniority vs. increases tied to demonstrated proficiency in the classroom, many see that as a separate issue, said Greg Knudsen, state Department of Education spokesman.

"They do favor increments, but I believe there's also a willingness to accept some form of rewards like a differential in pay to those who are succeeding," Knudsen said.

"The concern is how to measure that and administer it fairly."

The implementation of standards to which schools would be held accountable is a long-term process, but one that has been in development by the Department of Education, Knudsen said.

Because of the strike, "it's definitely lost a little momentum," he said, "but it's still basically proceeding."

The issue of accountability is especially important because Hawaii public school students have tended to lag behind the national average on standardized tests.

Hawaii ranked 34 among the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia on student achievement, according to a report this week by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The survey weighed data that included average scores on college entrance exams and reading scores of younger students.

In January, the industry newspaper Education Week gave Hawaii's public school system a D- on "standards and accountability," saying it needed to clarify what is expected of students and better measure whether youngsters meet those goals.

One casualty of the strike so far is Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu's new standardized test to assess how well students have met academic standards. The department had been scheduled to administer the assessment tests in reading, writing and math this month. The results would help administrators identify which teachers would deserve rewards for performance, which ones needed help in the classroom and which ones might require sanctions for poorly performing students.

"The superintendent has characterized it not so much as catching people doing something wrong, but finding them and helping them to succeed," Knudsen said.

"The same would be applied to students. If they aren't reaching a certain standard, then more assistance would be given.

"The objective is so that everyone succeeds."

One main concern among educators is how to be fair and accurate in trying to gauge what students have learned. Standardized tests are one way to measure aptitude, though such assessments are coming under increasing scrutiny nationwide as critics contend they are not an accurate measure of what a student knows.

"It's so hard to measure the impact on a child's life," said Myles Furubayashi, a librarian at Kaimuki Middle School who was serving as a picket captain at Pohukaina School yesterday. "How are you going to do it fairly for every child?"

Such concerns are shared by teachers nationwide, said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association in Washington, D.C.

"When you have high-stakes testing -- when you have a single decision based on whether a student passes or fails one test -- we believe that's inappropriate," Lyons said.

"We feel there are other areas that have to be considered."

Among the biggest factors in a student's success, educators say, is the child's socioeconomic background -- what kind of environment the student learns in at home.

Knudsen agrees, saying that discussions about accountability should focus on more than just the school district.

"If a child had no sleep or no breakfast and is dragging in the morning, how do you teach reading?" Knudsen asked.

"Accountability in our minds extends even into the community in having everyone gain a sense of what their role is in the success of the school."

>> HSTA Web site
>> UHPA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site

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